Interview 30 Apr 15

Serbian Artist Puts ‘Dead Nations’ on Show

Artist Ivan Grubanov, whose first major work was drawings of Slobodan Milosevic on trial, examines the idea of countries that no longer exist in a show at this year’s prestigious Venice Biennale.

Ivana Nikolic
BIRN
Belgrade
Ivan Grubanov. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Artist Ivan Grubanov will represent Serbia in Venice with his show ‘United Dead Nations’, which features the flags of Yugoslavia, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and other vanished states.

A total of 100 flags of countries that have disappeared during the 120-year history of the Venice Biennale will be on show at the event’s Serbian Pavilion; on the walls inside will be the three-dimensional names of all these countries, as well as the years between which they existed.

The main theme that Grubanov tries to explore in his art is collective memory, in particular memories connected to the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

“As I was growing up and forming myself as a person in very turbulent circumstances, I realised how much my personal impressions and memories are in confrontation with the official historical narrative,” he told BIRN.

“The possibilities of interpreting and opposing historical interpretations and of influencing collective memory are very interesting to explore,” he said.

One of the drawings of Milosevic on trial in The Hague.

Photo courtesy of Ivan Grubanov.

Grubanov’s first large-scale project, ‘Visitor’, was a collection of drawings of late Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. He did the drawings at Milosevic’s trial at the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which continued until Milosevic died in 2006.

He explained that he was still haunted by memories of the wars of the 1990s when the trial started, and “wanted some kind of real-life confrontation with that chapter of my life”.

“The encounter [with Milosevic in court] was so intense that I could not think properly, so I drew instead,” he recalled.

Grubanov’s other previous works include ‘Haunting Memory’, a collection of photographs juxtaposing images of his father with pictures of the former Yugoslav military general staff building in Belgrade which was demolished in the NATO air raids on Yugoslavia in 1999.

“With the eruption of violence, both the general staff and a concept of the former country were wiped away. My father is in his own role [in these images] while the country and its building represent mother, and stand as relics of an era, bare and without any meaning,” he said.

Image from 'United Dead Nations'. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Grubanov’s ‘United Dead Nations’ is a logical successor to ‘Dead Flags’, one of his earlier art pieces, a collection of flags of republics and organisations that no longer exist.

The core of this collection was flags from the former Yugoslav state: the federal flags, the flags of the constituent republics and provinces, as well as the flags of the workers’ unions and of the former ruling League of Communists.

“The first ideas concerning the dead flags emerged in 2011 when I bumped into a bunch of flags that are not used anymore in a cultural institution. Those were the flags of the former country and its republics,” Grubanov explained.

The former Yugoslav Army headquarters, part of Grubanov's 'Haunting Memory'. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Flags are art objects with a magical effect,” he added. “They have the power to influence lives and individuals through their symbolism.”

Although he was selected to exhibit at the prestigious Venice art fair, Grubanov admits that he is seldom invited to show his thoughtful and sometimes provocative works in Serbia.

He mostly presents his art abroad, the result of a lack of interest at home which could be down to the fact that the Serbian public wants to avoid troubling reminders of the 1990s.

But the artist says this attitude could be a mistake: “The core of many problems we are facing nowadays lies in the 1990s,” he concludes.

The 56th Venice International Art Exhibition runs from May 9 to November 22.

Talk about it!

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

Interview 20 Oct 17

‘Louder than Guns’: Croatia’s Patriotic Wartime Singers

Feature 11 Oct 17

Why Croatia’s President Tudjman Imitated General Franco

News 26 Sep 17

Peace Women Sue Serbian Tabloid for Libel

News 18 Sep 17

Serbia’s Seselj Mocks Hague Tribunal in Reality Show

News 05 Sep 17

BIRN Film on Wartime Home Swaps Gets TV Premiere

Feature 30 Aug 17

The Croats and Serbs Who Swapped Homes

Feature 29 Aug 17

Turkish TV Series on Bosniak Leader Vexes Serbs

Interview 10 Aug 17

A Bosnian War Criminal’s Quest for Forgiveness